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Self-Knowledge • Mood

We Are Made of Moods

It’s easy to assume that we are – in our natures and outlooks – solid, like stone, or wood or (more metaphorically) words or algebraic equations. And then, with time, we tend to meet with a more troubling, peculiar reality: we are in fact substantially made out of water. Which means that we are viscous, forever in flow, constantly changing, slippery and susceptible to ongoing ebbs and flows. 

Painting by Claude Monet of a boat crossing water at sunrise, with the red sun reflecting off the grey water.
Claude Monet, Impression, Sunrise, 1872

We proudly project an impression of stability – and then routinely and bathetically have to contradict it. We swear we will never forget someone; and we do. We know we will never get over a loss; and we manage. We declare that we’ll never love again; and we develop a new obsession. We are certain we’ve finally understood how to live; and then have to acknowledge that we haven’t begun.

Our shifts occur not only over years and months but over days and hours too. The ‘I’ of 7.30am – with their urgency, practical focus and panicky spirit – can grow into an embarrassing inconceivable stranger to the ‘I’ of 10.30pm, with their global perspective and mellow ease. 

We are unavoidable creatures of mood who dare to mistake themselves for people of conviction. We are seldom at greater danger of absurdity than when we announce that we are conclusively one thing or another: single or committed, calm or anxious, happy or despairing, right or left. The certainty we want to end it all may evaporate after a bracing ten minutes walk. Our present state of karmic composure can be pulverised by a new round of ego-driven worry.

It’s the smallest, least heralded elements that can lie behind great shifts in mood. Our existential outlook can alter because of how a friend greets us. The sugar content in our lunch can help reshape our opinions on the future of a relationship. Our perspective on what we call ‘life’ is often – to an unedifying but stubborn extent – determined by what we have to do in the next 24 hours.

We should prepare ourselves for change. Nothing lasts long in consciousness. The happiness that we feel is an inherent part of us may be gone in a day or two – or in the next hour. Then again, so might the sadness that we are presently so sure will be with us to the grave. It’s the greatest conceit of both our high and low states of mind to insist that they will be with us always. Everything is continually in flux. We are a rotating patchwork of moods. We are made of water.

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